Mr. Anesthesiologist – Are You Even A Doctor?

After a great city-wide conference this afternoon, I rushed to catch the elevator to begin my journey back across the Texas Medical Center. As the doors opened, an elderly man sat quietly in his wheelchair with another man beside him. I presumed they were a father-son duo. The former asked what I did for a living. I explained that I’m an anesthesiology resident.

Oh, so you’re in training? But Mr. Anesthesiologist… are you even a doctor?

I explained that I completed medical school last June, and that anesthesiology residents have four years of training plus additional years of optional fellowship training before practicing as independent physicians. The son seemed embarrassed by his father’s question, but before additional conversation could ensue, the two departed at a crosswalk.

And then I had a moment of reflection.

How many times this subject has come up over the last year? Colleagues saying that my persona is better suited for medicine, and that a career in anesthesiology is a waste of talent and bedside manner. Strangers not understanding the path of becoming a board-certified anesthesiologist. The public’s perception of CRNAs providing comparable care and taking over the role of anesthesiologists. Then instances like today which question my physician-hood.

Truth be told, it doesn’t bother me at all. The title of “doctor” and the symbol of the white coat have become so commonplace among healthcare providers that it doesn’t really mean anything significant. At the end of the day, I’d much rather be the prototypic unsung hero and let others take the credit. Even though upper-level residents have emphasized the importance of distinguishing myself as the “doctor”, I’ve always tried to treat patients more as friends to garner rapport and collectively arrive at a treatment plan. This approach has served me well over the last year and keeps me vested in my patients as a whole, not just their medical ailments.

One of my greatest anesthesiology mentors advises potential applicants that “you shouldn’t do anesthesiology if you want recognition – do it because you care.” Perception of my career is irrelevant – doing what’s right for my patients is all that matters.

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